How Accused Child Abuser Roy Moore Could Be Kept Out of the Senate
The Roy Moore saga gets worse every day. The allegations piling up against the Alabama Republican now include Moore, then the local DA, being banned from an area mall and calling a high school principal to pull a girl out of trigonometry class so he could ask her out on a date.
The accusations read like the stuff of after-school specials – except in those, the sexual predators on screen generally end up in jail. In this timeline, we have a man who is facing numerous carefully reported allegations of child molestation who might end up in the United States Senate.
As allegations continue to come out, many politicians and voters are desperately trying to figure out what to do about the special election in Alabama. Below are the possible outcomes and scenarios being floated – some of them much more viable than others.
Doug Jones wins the election
This is the simplest way for Moore to be kept out of the Senate. His Democratic contender, Jones, is an incredible candidate whose biography features prosecuting KKK members for firebombing a Birmingham church in 1963, an attack that killed four African-American girls. He has eloquently connected that past violence to the racism and bigotry of today.
Jones should have a good chance on his own of becoming a senator, if he weren’t running in one of the reddest states in the country. But the latest polls show that the claims against Moore are having an effect: The National Republican Senatorial Committee has Jones up by 12 points. If that sort of lead holds until Election Day, Jones will be senator, and Moore will hopefully disappear into the Alabama night, never to be heard from again.
Moore is removed from the ballot
When The Washington Post published the first accusations against Moore, there was quick talk of removing his name from the ballot before the December 12th election. However, that talk has died down because Alabama law prevents names being removed from the ballot within 76 days of an election. So even if Moore withdraws from the race, his name is going to be on the ballot.
The election is moved
Or at least Moore’s name will be on the ballot if there’s an election on December 12th. The governor of Alabama could in theory cancel the special election. But that would be an extraordinary move, and would look like election-rigging. Plus, Gov. Kay Ivey has said she is not going to do this.
Another possibility is that Luther Strange, the temporary Alabama senator whom this election will replace, could resign, forcing the governor to appoint a new senator in his place and starting the entire special-election process over again. This was floated Wednesday by various people, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Anything could happen, but even more so than the date-change option, this seems like the stuff of political fiction.
Both of these options would require a new primary, which would presumably take Moore’s name off the ballot, but don’t count on either. Moore is almost certainly going to be the Republican candidate in the special election.
Another Republican launches a write-in campaign
We generally think of write-in campaigns as jokes, but they have worked before – most notably in the 2010 Alaska Senate race, when incumbent Republican Lisa Murkowski lost in the primary but won the general election as a write-in candidate.
If voters can successfully write in someone with the last name Murkowski (a misspelled name can make a ballot invalid), they could certainly figure out how to write in Luther Strange. However, Murkowski had the advantage of being the popular elected incumbent, whereas Strange, while also the incumbent, was appointed, not elected, to fill Jeff Sessions’ seat. Strange has won state-wide elections before for attorney general, but if he ran as a write-in candidate this time, he would very likely split Republican votes with Moore (whose name will definitely be on the ballot – see above), giving Jones an even greater possibility of victory.
Moore wins but the Senate refuses to seat him
If Moore wins on December 12th, there are two guarantees: 1) Much of the country will hang its head in collective shame, and 2) the Senate will have to seat him.
Congress’ upper chamber has no choice – the Supreme Court has ruled on this exact point. In 1966, voters in Harlem re-elected Adam Clayton Powell as their representative in the House. However, he was under investigation at the time for corruption, so the House blocked him from taking his seat. The case made its way to the high court, which said Congress can only block someone from joining its ranks if he or she fails to meet the requirements listed in the Constitution. For the House, a member must to be 25 years old, have been a citizen for the last seven years and live in the state. Congress cannot add other requirements to that list.
The same would hold true in the Moore case. The Constitution lists three requirements to be a senator: the person must be 30 years old, have been a citizen for the last nine years and live in the state. Nowhere does it say he or she cannot be an accused child molester or mall-stalker. Thus, as much as members of the Republican-controlled Senate would like to block Moore from becoming a senator, if he wins the election they will have no choice.
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Moore wins and the Senate kicks him out
Just because the Senate has to seat Moore if he wins doesn’t mean it can’t later kick him out. The Senate is free to expel a member for not meeting the ethical requirements of the body. However, this is difficult to do: It requires a multi-step process and ultimately a two-thirds-majority vote. Practically, that means all 48 Democrats and Independents would have to be joined by 19 Republicans to vote against Moore.
Expelling a sitting senator wouldn’t be unprecedented, but it hasn’t been done in a very long time – since 1862. So, while senators might be discussing this option, given the severity of the claims against Moore, it’d be a very hard road to travel.
Moore wins and becomes a senator
If Moore wins the Alabama special election and the Senate doesn’t have the votes to kick him out, he’ll be Alabama’s junior senator until 2020, when the seat he occupies is once again up for grabs. If that happens, Moore will be an embarrassment for Republicans for the entire three years, not only because of the recent allegations, but also because of his longstanding history of bigotry and seemingly never-ending ethical challenges.
Which of these options is most likely? If you believe in good government and the ultimate wisdom of the electorate, you have to believe Doug Jones will win on December 12th. But if Trump’s election proved anything, it’s that nothing in politics is certain, even with the worst candidates running for office.